Hester Street

Director: Joan Micklin Silver

Joan Micklin Silver’s intriguing, feminist film set in an unlikely feminist time—1896—helped launch not only her career as one of America’s most important female writer/directors but also made a star of lead actress Carol Kane. Kane steals our hearts as the simple, kind Jewish wife and mother who comes to America to reunite with her husband and finds he’s fully embraced his new country by changing his name to sound more Gentile, working in a sweatshop, visiting prostitutes and dancing with young, beautiful women. Embarrassed by his former culture and deeply religious wife, Jake (Steven Keats) all but ignores Kane, making sure she stays in the apartment while he lives his life but Kane manages to succeed in the end, declaring her independence and finding her own place in the new land as well. The film’s black and white cinematography and use of subtitles add to its authentic feel and viewers get lost in Silver’s world—while it’s a bit slow going at first, her film wins us over largely due to its old fashioned feel—we realize the intelligence of our writer/director when we come to understand that she’s filming in a way that makes it feel like a “found” film from 1896. While this one may be hard to track down, feminists and film buffs alike will find it worth the effort.